So close to Pakistan

kandla

 

Sadly, India and Pakistan are fighting again. Some parts of Gujarat, such as Kutch, are perilously close to Pakistan.

“We boarded a smallish propeller aeroplane, a Bombardier, which serves the daily flight from Bombay in Maharashtra to Kandla in Kutch.

Our one and a half hour Spicejet flight headed north west from Bombay. After traversing Saurashtra, the southern peninsula of western Gujarat (also known as ‘Kathiawad’), we flew over an area of rivers and marshes, and begun descending towards the airport of Kandla in Kutch.

Many centuries ago, Kutch was an island between Gujarat and Sindh. It was separated from the mainland by rivers along its northern and eastern edges, and the sea along its southern edge. The rivers disappeared after a series of seismic disturbances, only to be replaced by arid rocky deserts, the Ranns of Kutch. Until the 1940s, Kutch was fiercely independent of the rest of the Indian subcontinent. Despite frequent attacks by its neighbour Sindh (now part of Pakistan) and the Mughals, the Kutchis retained their autonomy. One of the reasons we were visiting this outlying part of India, now incorporated within the State of Gujarat, was to visit the area from which my wife’s mother’s ancestors originated. Another reason was that we had heard that it is beautiful.

Kandla airport is small. As we descended from the ‘plane onto the tarmac, I noticed that our aircraft was surrounded by army men holding loaded machine guns, their muzzles pointing downwards. There were numerous signs forbidding photography because this airport is primarily a military base only 133 kilometres from the Indian border with Pakistan. There was no baggage conveyor belt system. The luggage from the ‘plane was brought to the tiny terminal in wagons from which we had to help ourselves to our bags.”

 

This is an excerpt fromTRAVELS THROUGH GUJARAT, DAMAN, AND DIUby Adam Yamey. It is avalable on Kindle and as a paperback from lulu.com, bookdepository.com, and Amazon.

Camels on the beach

CAMELS

Somnath beach

 

When we visited the beaches at Daman, Kutch Mandvi, and the temple town of Somnath, we saw camels on the beach. Their owners offer rides to holidaymakers, who have come to enjoy the sun, sea, and sand.

However, camels are not only kept for pleasure. All over Gujarat, we spotted camels drawing carts and wagons in towns, villages, and in the open countryside. Apart from being picturesque to my western eyes, they are much valued beasts of burden.

Gujarat and Kutch are areas with a semi-desert terrain and almost desert weather conditions. The camel is ideaaly suited to this environment. Most of the camels used in Gujarat State are bred in Kutch and are highly priced.

 

Read much more about this fascinating part of  western India in “TRAVELS THROUGH GUJARAT, DAMAN, AND DIU” by Adam Yamey. The paperback is available from lulu.com, bookdepository.com, and Amazon, which also supplies the Kindle version.

Reserved for ladies

RAJKOT

Excerpt from “TRAVELS THROUGH GUJARAT, DAMAN, AND DIU” by Adam YAMEY. Available as a Kindle from Amazon and as a paperback from lulu.com, amazon.com, and bookdepository.com 

 

The Watson Museum in Rajkot has a good collection of exhibits that encompass the history of the area around Rajkot. Given its age, it is in good condition, and well-worth visiting as is its neighbour in another part of the same building, the Lang Library. It was founded in 1856 by Colonel William Lang, who was a British Political Agent in the Kathiawar region of India, which included Rajkot, from 1846 to ’59. Today, it is named the Arvindbhai Maniyar Library in honour of a former Mayor of Rajkot.

Before entering the spacious reading room, we saw a glass case containing a model depicting the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, arts, and wisdom, Saraswati, holding a stringed musical instrument in her raised left hand. She was draped with flower garlands. The reading room, surrounded by bookcases and busts of famous people, has many tables and chairs. Almost every chair was occupied by men reading newspapers. Part of the ceiling is made in shiny wood (like a parquet floor) patterned with lozenges containing centrally placed carved wooden rosettes. An elegant staircase with curved wooden bannisters leads to an upper floor. A side room on the ground floor serves a children’s library equipped with miniature desks whose seatbacks are carved to resemble squirrels in profile.

On our way out of the library, we noticed a small table with only enough room for two chairs. It bore a notice in Gujarati saying that it was “reserved for female readers”. One of the chairs was occupied by a young lady, who confirmed that this table is the only place allotted to female readers. When asked what happened when there were more than two female readers, she shrugged her shoulders, and said: “There never are.” The segregation of library users by gender is one of many indications we had that people in Saurashtra retain very conservative views of how life should be lived.

A freedom fighter from Kutch

VARMA HOUSE

Shyamji Krishna Varma (1857-1930) was born in Mandvi in Kutch (now part of Gujarat State). A Sanskrit scholar of world reknown and a barrister, he was also an important, but now not so well-known, activist in the fight for India’s Independence from the British. 

He settled in London in the late 1890s and lived there in the northern suburb of Highgate until he moved to France before 1910. This house, number 60 Muswell Hill Road, was his home between 1900 and 1907. A circular plaque commemorates his short stay here.

An Albanian in Gujarat

While visiting the former Portuguese colony of Diu, an enclave on the south coast of the Saurashtrian peninsula of Gujarat, I came across an open space that provides great views of the fortresses.

DIU MON

It contains a tall, bulky, four-sided column with longitudinal striations. Wire hoops serving as simple steps provide a means of reaching the column’s flat square summit. This is a monument built by the Portuguese to honour of the Gujarati General Khadjar Safar (known by the Portuguese as ‘Coge Cofar’).  The Gujaratis and the Portuguese were enemies and a siege occurred in 1546. This siege of Diu was won by the Portuguese, but Safar was remembered for his bravery. I have seen a picture of this column taken in the 1950s, when it bore a plaque in Portuguese that read in translation: “The tomb of Coge Cofar, instigator of the second siege of Diu. Commander-in-chief of the Turkish and Janissary troops from the kingdom of Cambaya, imposers of the siege of this Fort. In May of the year of 1546, he was killed by a stray bullet that came out from the Fort, penetrated the Turkish forces, and blew off his head. He was brave and courageous.”

Kuzhippalli S Mathew writing in his Portuguese and the Sultanate of Gujarat, 1500-1573 relates that Khwajar (or Khadjar) Safar was born in Italy of Catholic parents, probably Albanians. A successful trader, Safar, with his three boats loaded with valuable spices and drugs, was captured by a general of the Sultan of Cairo, who encountered him in the Straits of Mecca. The captive so impressed the Sultan that together they began planning ways to oust the Portuguese from the Indian Ocean trading arena. Portugal’s activities were wrecking the import of spices to Europe via Egypt. The Sultan gave Safar command of vessels to attack the Portuguese in India. By 1508, he had already fought with the Portuguese near both Chaul and Diu. After many adventures amongst which he fled from Egypt, converted to Islam, and even served the Portuguese briefly, he became an important person in the Sultanate of Gujarat. Both Khadjar Safar and his son Muharram Rumi Khan were killed during the siege of 1546.

This is an excerpt from Travels through Gujarat, Daman, and Diu by Adam Yamey.

Available from Lulu.com, and on Amazon Kindle

Thrown out of a library

Dress code can be critical…

yamey

When she was about two years old, our daughter dressed in a unisex romper outfit, rushed into the Men’s Bar at the Bangalore Club. An elderly gentleman conducted her back to the entrance of the bar, saying: “You can’t come in here yet, young man. You’ll have to wait until you’re twenty one.”

My wife explained that our child is a girl. The gentleman replied: “In that case, my dear, you will never be able to enter the Men’s Bar.”

The Bangalore Club was founded by British officers in 1868 at the time when Mahatma Gandhi was born in faraway Gujarat. Until after about 1945, women were not allowed into the main Club House. There was a separate annexe reserved for women. And until 1947, with the exception of servants and a very few high ranking military officers, no Indians were permitted to enter any part of the Club.

The…

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Ellis Bridge

Ahmedabad was founded on the east bank of the River Sabarmati in the 15th century. Until 1871, there was no bridge across the river from the city to the west bank. In that year, a wooden bridge was constructed.

A few years later, the wooden bridge was destroyed by floods. In 1892, a steel bridge was constructed. This was designed by an Indian engineer HD Bhachech and named in honour of a British colonial official named Ellis.

The Ellis Bridge remained in use until 1997, when it was closed. By 1999, two concrete bridges were constructed, one on each side of the old bridge. These new, wider bridges form what is now known as the Swamivivekananda Bridge. The old Ellis Bridge flanked by the two concrete bridges, heavily laden with traffic, has been preserved as a heritage monument.

The old Ellis Bridge, which existed when Gandhi returned to India from South Africa in about 1917, leads from the old city to Kochrab, where the Mahatma set up his first ashram in India.

Spotted in Bhavnagar

Mahatma Gandhi studied for a few months at Samaldas College in Bhavnagar. The Gandhi Smruti in that city contains a first class collection of photographs recording the life of the Mahatma. This echibition is on the first floor of a building. Its ground floor is occupied by the exhibits in the city’s Barton Museum.

The Barton contains some fine artefacts made in different eras. Amongst these, there are some lovely Jain stone carvings.

One area of the museum oncludes a case showing the evolution of the flag of what was to become post-colonial India. Near to this, there is a vitrine containing ageing historic postage stamps in various states of decay.

While looking at the stamps, I spotted several bearing the name “Ifni”. Never heard of it? Well, I had. I used to spot Ifni on the pages of atlases published before the 1960s. However, I had never seen stamps bearing this name.

Ifni was a tiny Spanish colonial enclave on the Atlantic coast of Morocco. The Spanish ruled Ifni from 1860 until 1969, when it was returned to Morocco. The Sultanate of Morocco had ceded the tiny piece of land to Spain in 1960.

According to an article in Wikipedia, Ifni issued several new postage stamps each year. More of them remained unused than used.

I do not know who donated the sheets of postage stamps to the Barton Museum in Bhavnagar, but those from Ifni were certainly isdued orior to 1969.

The museum in Bhavnagar is, like many other museums in provincial towns in Gujarat, filled with a variety of artefacts. You never know what you will find when you enter one of them. The stamps from Ifni were certainly unexpected.

Feeding the poor

A few years ago, I was on Calcutta during the August monsoon. As I waded through the filthy rain water flooding the streets of a bazaar area, I noticed that at quite a few clothing material shops run by Moslems there were huge pots of rice and dal or curry. These were manned by shop staff. They were doling out this food to various poorly clothed passers by.

I asked what was going on. One shop keeper told me that during Ramadan it was considered virtuous to feed the poor while the faithful Moslems upheld their required daily fasting. This charitable activity impressed me.

During a recent visit to Ahmedabad in February, I passed an eatery, whose signboard read Muslim Kifayat Hotel, hotel being Indian English for restaurant.

Kifayat is the Urdu word for ‘sufficiency’. It may have other meanings in Hindi.

The restaurant under discussion is on one side of the enormous market place that extends from the Bhadra Fort through the three arches of the 15th century Teen Darwaza and beyond.

Rows of benches are lined up on the pavement in front of the open fronted restaurant. Often, these are occupied by people, who appear to be extremely impoverished. Food (all vegetarian) is prepared at the front if the restaurant in huge pots and a tandoor oven.

One of the men running the Kifayat Hotel explained that the meals they served – dal, rice, freshly cooked rotis, and vegetables – are normally priced at 40 rupees, but poor people pay no more than half of that amount.

Later while exploring Ahmedabad we spotted other eateries like the Kifayat Hotel, and like that place they had rows of benches in front of them. Often, these seats were quite crowded with men, women, and children.

I have yet to discover whether the charitable eating places we saw on Ahmedabad are self-financing or to some extent assisted by charitable institutions.

P.S. just before publishing this, I visited a Hindu temple in Koramangala, Bangalore. Every Thursday, lunch is provided free of charge to anyone who turns up, regardless of their religious belief.

A peculiar street object

Happy Valentine’s Day!

In the historic centres of both Ahmedabad and Baroda (Vadodara), there are a few very tall, several storeys high (higher than the buildings next to them), metal poles sprouting from the pavement. They are all topped with metalwork objects as illustrated in my photograph published below.

Most people, whom I asked, had no idea what purpose these poles and their curious apparatus served. I posted pictures of these tall poles on Facebook, and then received a number of suggestions as to what they might be. Most people, seeing the arrows, suggested that they may have been old weather vanes for determining wind direction, but I felt that this was an unlikely for these poles that look as if they were put up by a municipal authority.

One person I asked in a street in Ahmedabad thought that the poles had something to do with drainage, maybe ventilation. I quite liked that speculative reply because the spheres surmounting all of the poles have two short pipes attached to them.

Recently whilst looking at the Internet I came across a picture (see https://www.arcgis.com/apps/MapJournal/index.html?appid=4c10a18d5cfa4da486df492765c2ad54) like mine. The picture was taken in Ahmedabad and is described as a sewage gas vent. This tallies with what I was told by one bystander.

A sewage gas vent that might have rotated to catch the prevaing breezes seems to be a plausible function for these poles BUT I cannot yet be sure if this is correct.

If anyone reading this can enlighten me more, please drop me a line or two in the comments section of this blog.